One of my favorite passages to include on notes I write is 1 Thessalonians 1:2-3, “We give thanks to God always for all of you, constantly mentioning you in our prayers, remembering before our God and Father your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.” I appreciate Paul’s combination of remembering, praying, and giving thanks. It is a little like telling someone that every time we remember them, we remember God’s good work in them, pray for them, and are grateful for them.
What would it be like to receive a note from a mentor or a friend that said essentially that? You would feel encouraged and valued. Another person not only remembered you, but they remembered the good things and saw God’s actions in you. They were grateful for who you were. You were important to them.
The practice of thanksgiving is an act that confers value on the thing or person for whom we are grateful. It is a way for God to train us to see the world and others without pride and to enjoy the gifts they bring us. Without thankfulness, we are likely to forget instead of remember. We are likely to see only the things that frustrate us in others instead of recognizing the good. And ultimately, we can lose sight of the goodness of God in all he gives.
Thanksgiving is a spiritual discipline for the follower of Jesus Christ and is especially important for pastors to keep at the forefront of their minds. The life of a pastor is full of people. Whether you are an extrovert or introvert, there is no getting around the pastoral duty of tending to sheep. Often, our interactions with people come at their most complicated or frightening times. True, there are weddings and baby dedications, but frequently it feels as if 9 out of 10 conversations involve the worst in the lives of others. As a result, it is easy to grow calloused and jaded.
It is precisely in those times, however, when the discipline of thanksgiving reaps its greatest rewards. If we are only thankful when we feel blessed to overflowing, we will miss the power of countering the vice of bitterness. Abraham Lincoln made his famous Thanksgiving Day Proclamation in the middle of the Civil War, a time that must have felt as dark as any in our nation’s history. Speaking of “fruitful fields” and “healthful skies,” President Lincoln reminded the nation of the gifts God continued to give them even in the middle of a bloody Civil War. His act of thanksgiving is all the more powerful for all the reasons people had for not feeling grateful.
When I am at my lowest or most frustrated, my wife calmly reminds me of all the good things God has done and the abundant blessing of family and friends he has put in my life. I am truly blessed by a good and loving God, and I must keep that in mind. It is a discipline, and it is possible to develop.
Feeling valued is an incredibly encouraging thing. When someone is valued, we see that someone is “of good use” to us or the organization and that they are worth our attention. A recent trend has been for activists to deface priceless artwork for the sake of their cause. They may feel that their cause is worth attention-getting, but it reveals a lack of value and thankfulness for some of humanity’s most beautiful things. A person can value artwork and a cause at the same time.
On the other hand, thankfulness causes me to see someone in terms of their importance. This means I need to approach them with enough humility and respect to put myself aside long enough to make them feel their worth. It is an act of seeing them the way God sees them. We may or may not be thankful for something they have done, but we are ready to see the kind of value their Creator places on them.
When Paul wrote to the Philippians, he encouraged them to have the same perspective on others that Jesus had. He explains by saying, “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests but also to the interests of others” (Philippians 3:3-4).
Being thankful gets me out of my own way long enough to see the gifts God has given. I see them in who he is and what he does. I see them in the people God has placed in my life. I see them in the beauty he has put in the world. Then, when thanksgiving becomes a habit, I discover that the world is full of the goodness of God. Thanksgiving opens my heart and mind to God.
Who do I need to be thankful for today? I once wrote a friend across the country after I prayed for him. I emailed, “I wanted you to know you have been prayed for and ‘thanked for’ today!” How can I list the ways I value my spouse and family out loud? I have a friend who writes encouraging and thankful notes on his kid’s bathroom mirrors in erasable marker. It’s the first thing they see when they get ready in the morning.
Today, let us begin the habit enjoined by Paul when he tells us we need to keep our minds on the things that are good, true, and praiseworthy (Philippians 4:8). This has the chance to change the way we see everything else.